The Convict & The Snowman

by Tommy Brennick, June 23, 2010

It was a snowy day in Boston which could mean any day from October to May. That's just the way it is in the East, snow and cold. School was not in the plan this day. I had a little weed and a few dollars in my pocket so I was going to do big things! I was wearing some clothes I got out of a Morgan Memorial box. My father would have me jump in and grab some clothes, we brought them home and saw what would fit us. With seven kids to dress, I figure he had the right idea. You know, you got to do what it takes.

Every morning we were up at 4am and out the door by 4:30am. He had the trash routes down so it was off we went. My brother Jake, my father and I, but more often than not Jake ran away or was in juvenile hall. We hit the route. I called it “junkin”! Little did I know at the time that to my dad it was survival! My dad's truck could hold a ton of newspapers. I know that because I stacked that thing before 6am, more times than I can remember! “Papers, Tommy, my side!” I jumped out, took off to the side of the truck, threw the papers out and stacked them in the back of the truck. “Papers, dad, my side!” I remember the first time I said that I was so proud of my­self. Off like a shot — pick them up and stack them in the back!

“Papers, my side!” I came to hate the sound of those words! Once or twice I even tried not to see the papers but a backhand is a quick way to let you know that old dad can see both sides of the street in more ways than one.

We the haul to Mel's salvage and got $78 for the load which was a hard-earned ton. I got $8 which was big money when you're eight years old — or young! On the way home we hit the Morgan Memorial box. They kept them on the side of the churches so I figured that so long as we brought back what did not fit anyone, it was cool with God — even if a lot of the times not one thing fit me. So I always waited for hand-me-downs which some other family had already handed down and then gave to the church. My family would take them and I would wait for my three older brothers to hand them down the line. Man that was a bitch!

My dad would leave for work and I would be cook­ing the oatmeal or boiling the eggs — one for each pocket to keep the hands warm on the walk to school — then you save them for lunch. At the end of the month the welfare peanut butter and cheese was long gone so it was oatmeal and eggs. Yee-haw!

On this day I was going to see who's hookin’ school. I took a corner and saw a snowman in front of the Clancy house. Something about that snowman hurt me in a way I did not understand until years later. All I knew back then was that snowman had to go — and it did! Right to snowman heaven! I broke the arm branches, tore off the head, smashed the body and turned it back into a pile of snow. I even ate the carrot nose! I ruined that snowman and did not understand the anger and the more I ruined it the madder I got!

Little did I know that Mrs. Clancy had seen me. She called my house and when I got home my mother gave me a beating. When my father got home I got the real beating! I'll tell you one thing worse than getting a beat­ing: it's waiting for your dad to get home and give it to you because you live out that beating 100 times before actually getting it all the while trying to figure out a way of trying to figure a way out of it. But for hookin’ school and ruining a snowman — there ain't no way out of that one. Imagine getting a beating for messing up a snow­man. It's kind of hard to figure. All I know is that I hated that snowman!

But life goes on. 25 years later, sitting in a prison cell looking at 35 years to life off a plea bargain. Where the bargain is on that, don't ask me. The eight-year-old youngster who ruined the snowman went from stacking newspapers on the back of a truck to looking at that much time for robbing bags of money out of the back of an armored truck. A life of jail, drugs and crime in between. I was a hero to the wrong type of people and a zero to the right type of people. At this time I took stock of my life knowing that if I lost this case I'd be 68 when I got out and came up empty.

Through reading books I had gone all over the world and even out of it. I spent money on the things that made me a ghetto and project hero. I made many a drug dealer a lot of money. In short I had been no place and done nothing.

My projects were three blocks from the beach and I had only been there at night most of the time in stolen cars with what we used to call “hood hos.” I mean, it's kind of sad when one of the only things you had to brag about is a girl giving up her virginity to you in the back seat of a stolen Fleetwood at three in the morning at the beach.

Reality set in. I had done nothing in my life that meant anything. When people I know would ask, “Hey Tommy, let's go to a hockey game,” or a concert, or ski­ing. I always had a reason. I mean, come on — that shit’s for lames. I thought life got no better than having new kicks, a new outfit, a pocket full of money. It was the best. A few lines with the girls, shooting up with my crew, late nights in the projects. I was a project dog. I knew every hallway, seller and rooftop but could not tell you one thing about anything outside of them.

In learning this about myself it was like taking a test in thinking — you knew all the answers only to find out you got it all wrong.

I will forever remember the night it sank in in such a way that it can only make one realize that life has a way of coming full circle on you in ways you will never see until it puts you on your knees. I was going through this epiphany and all this is settling in on me. I was watching television. It was a night not unlike any other and a Hallmark card advertisement came on and it was a kid. It was snowing out and he was building a snowman and — bang! It hit me so hard, for a second I couldn’t get my breath! Oh man, it hurt all the way from my soul to my heart and many places in between. I never made a snowman! I lived in a world where it snowed seven months a year and I was never a kid enough to make a snowman. How innocent and free it must feel. I never knew what a kid thinks about when he is doing it, what is that mindframe about? Why was I the kid to ruin one? Did I realize it was that I somehow knew I had already lost that part of me that could find the wonder and joy in something as innocent as building a snowman?

Here I am, a 33-year-old drug addict, criminal and hard-core convict and I'm crying over never having built a snowman! Better yet, who would think you could learn so much about life from a pile of snow, a few branches, and a carrot?

You know the beating I got that day long ago did not hurt near as much as what I felt 28 years later. Yes, a snowman made a convict cry, made a criminal start turn his life around and a grown man wonder what it would be like to be a kid and make a snowman. 28 years later that eight-year-old youngster is a convict who finally loves that snowman!

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